This post was supposed to be a look at the NL after one month of play. But it took me long enough that it’s more of a measure of the first two months. Let’s call it the quarter season standings measurement.
Washington Nationals: The Nationals are the other half of the beltway surprise. They are perhaps a little overlooked as their success is less surprising, but it’s no less impressive. At 26-18 they are first in the NL East. It starts with their fantastic pitching staff of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Zimmerman and the big surprise, Ross Detwiler. Gio Gonzalez leads the bunch with his 1.98 ERA, though the highest ERA is only 3.65 and is owned by Detwiler. The highest BAA is Detwiler’s 250 with Gio Gonzalez leading the group at 167. This starting rotation is unstoppable and the main reason why they have been one of the best teams in the league to start the year. Their hitters aren’t playing poorly, but with so many injuries they are pretty lucky to be where they are today. Adam LaRoche leads the team in AVG and RBI as Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse have all seen serious DL time. And now Wilson Ramos will be gone for the rest of the season after tearing his ACL. So this pitching staff has to continue to be strong and carry this team that is nursing offensive injuries. But the good news is that they’ve brought up hyper-talented outfielder Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman is back. If they can stay close to the top of this strong division, then when they return to full strength they can continue to compete all season long and perhaps bring the Nationals nation their first playoff appearance ever.
Atlanta Braves: The Braves are looking to return to the playoffs after their epic collapse last season kept them out on the last day. And after losing the first 4 games of the season, they have the best record in the majors and are clicking on all cylinders. At 26-18, they are in second in the NL East and have the third best record in the league. We knew they’d be able to pitch, and they haven’t disappointed. Brandon Beachy is the big surprise here. A lot of Braves fans knew he was talented and liked his ability to strike people out, but he wasn’t expected to be the ace of the staff. But he leads the team with a 1.77 ERA to go with 4 Wins.. After him, Tommy Hanson is leading the team with 5 Wins and a 3.43 ERA. Jair Jurrjens struggles sent him to the minors and Mike Minor isn’t doing much beyond striking people out, but Tim Hudson has returned healthy and Randall Delgado is playing well. And with Julio Teheran waiting in the wings, the one area where the Braves have plenty of depth is in the starting pitching department. The back end of their bullpen continues to be strong and Livan Hernandez was a great pickup in middle relief. But the real key to the Braves improving this season was their offense. Michael Bourn, who is one of the hottest hitters in baseball right now, leads the team with a 323 AVG. He’s stolen 13 bases and scored 30 R. Freddie Freeman is following his runner up Rookie of the Year campaign with a strong start in his sophomore season, leading the team with 7 HR and 32 RBI. Dan Uggla’s playing well hitting 262 with 5 HR, 24 RBI and a team leading 30 R. Chipper Jones is hot in his final season with a 307AVG, 5 HR and 24 RBI. And Jason Heyward is playing well too with 5 HR and 9 SB. Atlanta has 6 players capable of 15 or more HR and 3 capable of 20 or more SBs. They may finally have the balanced, strong offense to support their pitching staff. If they do, they will be in the playoff running all year.
New York Mets: Another big surprise this young offseason is the strong play of the New York Mets. At 24-20, the Mets are 2 games back of first in the Eastern division and in third place above the Marlins and Phillies. Individual stars on both sides of the ball are carrying this team and the role players are really over performing as well. David Wright is leading the team, hitting 403 with an OBP of 503. That’s just silly. He’s doing a little bit of everything with 4 HR, 25 RBI, 29 BB and 4 SB. And he leads the team with 29 R. Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada are both hitting over 300 at the top of the order. And rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis is playing very well with a 284 AVG and 13 RBI and 20 R. Ike Davis and Lucas Duda are showing some power as well and this team is not a group of guys that you look forward to pitching to. When it comes to the guys on the mound, they may be off to even better starts (except for David Wright…no one’s playing better than him….except for Josh Hamilton and Matt Kemp). Johan Santana has stepped back into the starting rotation and is looking like the staff ace he was when he went down with an injury a few years ago. His record is 1-2 in 7 games, but he’s got a 3.24 ERA so far this season and a 239 BAA. He’s pitching very well right now and keeping the Mets in every game. R.A. Dickey leads the team with 6 Wins and he has a 3.45 ERA. Mike Pelfrey was off to a strong start with a 2.29 ERA before he got hurt. These starters were solid last year, but with these performances, a re-vamped bullpen (despite the struggles of closer Frank Francisco) and a much more balanced offense to support them they can really make some noise in a talented division. I don’t think they can win the division this season, but this team is a lot better than people realize. With the expectations for these guys in the basement, they are really impressing people and putting together a strong core that can hopefully compete in the near future.
Miami Marlins: The Marlins spent a lot of money this past offseason and were hoping to jump up to the top of the standings after finishing in last in 2011. But at 24-20, they sit in fourth in the Eastern division and despite early struggles are showing some signs of turning it around. Omar Infante is off to a strong start hitting 326 with 6 HR, 20 RBI and 21 R. And while that hot start is fantastic, no one was expecting anywhere near this output from him, and a guy that was originally slotted to hit 7th or 8th can’t be the best hitter on your team. Giancarlo Stanton is off to a pretty good start as well. He’s hitting 281 with a team high 9 HR and 29 RBI. But their three speed demons have started slow with Jose Reyes hitting 253, Emilio Bonifacio hitting 268 and Hanley Ramirez hitting 250. They need to get those three guys on track if they want to score some runs. They’ve done a little better in recent weeks, but if those guys don’t get on base then this offense will continue to struggle in that massive new ballpark. Their starters have been okay, though their bullpen has struggled. Carlos Zambrano is off to a fantastic start with a 1.96 ERA and 199 BAA. Anibal Sanchez is pitching almost as well at 2.32 and making Mark Buehrle’s 3.36 look high. The only one who’s really struggling is the ace of the group, Josh Johnson. But their real issues are in the bullpen where they can’t find a stable 9th inning man. They signed Heath Bell to a huge contract to close things out for them, but he’s blown 4 Saves and has an ERA over 7. Edward Mujica isn’t too much better going 2 for 4 in Save opportunities and a 4.34 ERA. These starters can pitch well, but if the bullpen fails them and their offense struggles, they won’t win a lot of games. They need to turn things around for the fans in that new ballpark in a hurry. But I think they will end up settling in the 500 range and finishing 3rd or 4th this season.
Philadelphia Phillies: And perhaps the biggest the surprise this season is the struggles of the Phillies. At 22-23, they are last in the NL East. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley haven’t played yet this season. Cliff Lee missed some time to injury. Jim Thome, brought in for depth, is on the DL. Things haven’t been going the way they planned. And the players they are able to keep healthy are either showing signs of age and slowing down or are just off to slow starts. Catcher Carlos Ruiz, traditionally the weakest hitter in Philly’s stacked offense the last few years, is off to the best start in the city of brotherly love. He’s hitting 344 with 7 HR and 29 RBI. Juan Pierre, who was signed to play left field, is also hitting well as he takes playing time from John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix. Pierre is hitting 304 in 40 games with 6 steals. Nix has played well in his limited time too, sharing time with Pierre, spelling Pence and sending Mayberry Jr. to first as he hits 326 with 2 HR and 11 RBI. But the starters aren’t doing nearly as well. Ty Wiggington was supposed to take the lion’s share of time at first while Howard was hurt and also back up third and possibly second. He’s hitting 248 with 2 HR. Hunter Pence is hitting 265 and Jimmy Rollins 229. Pete Orr and Freddy Galvis are splitting time at second while Utley heals and this offense needs a major shot in the arm. They aren’t too far back in the division yet, but the teams in front of them are talented, and they need to start playing better before these guys return to the lineup, or by the time they get back it will be too late. But this drop off in offense wasn’t out of the blue. They started slow last year and knew they’d struggle some in the beginning of this season with their injuries. They thought they’d be okay with their All Star pitching staff. And while they are playing okay, they aren’t dominating like usual and are ending up losing their fair share of games behind their anemic offense. Cole Hamels has been the ace thus far in 2012, with the team lead in Wins (6), ERA (2.48) and Ks (58). But all anyone is talking about with him right now is his stupid decision to throw at Bryce Harper because he’s a rookie and that’s how things are done. Roy Halladay isn’t pitching poorly, but sits at 4-4 with his 3.58 ERA. Vance Worley is playing well with a 3.07 ERA and Cliff Lee is playing well when he’s healthy, turning in a 2.66 ERA over his 4 starts, though he’s 0-2. The middle relief isn’t fantastic, with spot starter Kyle Kendrick turning in an ERA over 5 and 4 other guys with ERAs over 6. If they keep giving up runs in the middle innings, the numbers the starters put forward won’t matter as they won’t have the offense to compete. The Phillies are very talented. But with health concerns and a troublesome bullpen, they are looking like the worst team in the East, and even a late return by Howard and Utley won’t boost them back up into first place if they drop far enough behind.
St. Louis Cardinals: The defending champs are first in the Central division with a 25-19 record. The team doesn’t seem to have missed a beat with the departure of Pujols and LaRussa, and Mike Matheny has this team playing hard and winning ballgames. Rafael Furcal is off to a tremendous start with a 343 AVG. He’s stolen 8 bases and scored 30 R to start the season. The other big bat coming through early this season for the Cards is free agent signee Carlos Beltran. A player many thought could be done has come out and is leading the team (and league) with 13 HR and 35 RBI. If it weren’t for Josh Hamilton and Matt Kemp, we’d be talking about Beltran nonstop. Matt Holliday and David Frese have also slugged a combined 17 HR for the team while Jon Jay and Yadier Molina are both hitting over 300. When you figure that they’ve had this success largely without Allen Craig and Lance Berkman, you think that this team will only get better as the season goes on, and should continue to keep hitting. But it’s not just the hitting that has produced some surprising stars; it’s the pitching as well. After finding out that Chris Carpenter would be gone for a while there was concern about the state of the starting rotation. But Lance Lynn came in and put that concern to bed with his fantastic start. He leads the team in Wins (6) and ERA (2.31). In addition to Lynn, Kyle Lohse is off to a great start at 5-1 with a 2.91 ERA and Jake Westbrook is 4-3 with a 2.41 ERA. With those guys leading the way, the Cards are succeeding despite the loss of Carpenter and the ineffectiveness of Adam Wainwright, who is showing signs of turning it around. This just goes further in illustrating that the Cards are planning on defending their title and are in a good position to win the Central after a strong start to the 2012 season.
Cincinnati Reds: One of the most disappointing teams starting the season, the Reds have gotten things back on track in recent weeks as they’ve pulled their record up to 24-19 and are only trailing the Cards by half a game in the Central. Jay Bruce has been on fire for this club with a team leading 10 HR and 27 RBI. In addition, former MVP Joey Votto leads the team with a 303 AVG and has 7 HR and 28 RBI. The rest of the hitters aren’t playing nearly as well, but there is a ton of talent on that team with Chris Stubbs and Brandon Phillips and they are slowly getting on track. When they get there, this offense will be truly scary and right now they aren’t trailing the leaders of their division by too many games. The situation on the mound is a little different. They have individual stars, but by and large their group of pitchers is fairly average. Johnny Cueto is having a fantastic season leading the team with 5 Wins and a 1.97 ERA. He’s emerged as their ace this season, despite the presence of Mat Latos. Bronson Arroyo has probably pitched the second best among the starters with a 3.46 ERA. Latos and Bailey have ERAs in the 4s while Mike Leake’s is over 5. Their bullpen has been solid with Sean Marshall stepping up after Ryan Madson was lost for the season. Marshall is 6 for 7 in Save opportunities despite a high 4.80 ERA (for a closer). Batters are hitting 333 against him, but he’s done a decent job stranding runners. The real star of the pen is fire-baller Aroldis Chapman. Chapman has 41 Ks in 23 innings and an ERA of 0.89. He’s second on the team in Ks despite being a middle reliever. Batters are also hitting .089 off of him. He’s just fantastic. If the Reds can see better performances out of their starters, and maybe a pick up in the offense as well, then they have a good chance to catch St. Louis in this division, as they are loaded with talent and were my pick to win the division. They may not catch them, but they’ll be in the hunt all season.
Houston Astros: Another huge surprise this season, the Astros sit in 3rd place in the NL Central with a 21-23 record. The fact that we are highly encouraged by this shows how bad the team was last season and how low the expectations were. I said that if the Astros didn’t lose 100 games, then Brad Mills should win manager of the year. Perhaps that was a bit rash, but this team is certainly over-performing. These young players are playing well with Jose Altuve leading the club with a 315 AVG. Veteran Carlos Lee is second at 294 with 4 HR and 21 RBI. Jed Lowrie is on fire with a 289 AVG and a team leading 7 HR and 18 RBI. And there’s growth all around. J.D. Martinez is struggling with a 226 AVG, but has 21 RBI. Jordan Schafer has swiped 13 bags and scored 22 R. There aren’t too many All Stars here, but these players are learning and getting better as they see more and more time against big league pitching, especially the guys who played a lot last season. It’s a little different on the mound, as the old guys are taking the reins. Bud Norris leads the team with 5 Wins and 58 Ks in 57 IP. With a 3.14 ERA, he’s off to a great start. Wandy Rodriguez is pitching even better with a 2.24 ERA and 3 Wins. The young guys aren’t doing as well, but hopefully they are learning from the veterans’ successes. And Brett Meyers has been lights out in the 9th. No one thinks they’ll be in the playoff hunt this season, but they are playing a lot better than people thought and certainly keeping themselves from being embarrassed.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates sit at 20-24, 4 games below 500 and in fourth in the Central division. That’s not where they want to be, but they aren’t too far back in the hunt. After their surprising start last year where they were in first at the All Star break they were expecting a lot. But they stumbled through the second half and ended up with their 20th straight losing record. This season they are playing around 500, which is an improvement over their average season from the past 20 years, though not what they were hoping for after last year’s success. Andrew McCutchen is leading this offense hitting 340. He’s doing a little bit of everything hitting 7 HR, 23 RBI and 8 SB. But after him the second highest average on the team is only 260. Pedro Alvarez has 7 HR and 18 RBI, but is only hitting 203. They have a lot of young guys on this club, and they are struggling. You find that a lot with young players as they are figuring out pitching still while pitchers are adjusting to them. They have plenty of talent, but the youth on this team is one reason a lot of people though they might struggle this season. Luckily their pitching is keeping them in the mix. James McDonald leads the team with a 3-2 record and 2.51 ERA. He also has a team leading 58 Ks in 57 IP. No other starter has a winning record, but they are playing solidly with Erik Bedard turning in a 3.52 ERA and Charlie Morton with a 4.35 ERA. Kervin Correia is playing passably at 4.50 and even A.J. Burnett’s 4.78 isn’t too terrible. Joel Harnahan is 10 for 11 in Save opportunities and most of their other pitchers are playing well in the bullpen. They aren’t overpowering opponents, but they are keeping the Pirates in games. And if this young offense can get on track, I could see them playing better and maybe breaking that losing season streak. But I don’t expect them to compete in this division this year.
Milwaukee Brewers: This was a team that was supposed to be in the running to win the division once they learned Ryan Braun would be with them all season. Instead, they are 18-26 and in 5th in a division that looks pretty weak. Ryan Braun is leading the team in HR (10) and RBI (21). He’s also swiped 8 bags. Young catcher Jonathan Lucroy is also playing well hitting 344. But there are struggles after them. Corey Hart is second with 9 HR, but is hitting only 256. The new power guy, Aramis Ramirez is really struggling hitting 226 with only 3 HR. Rickie Weeks has 4 HR but only a 158 AVG. Nyjer Morgan is hitting 212. This team was supposed to be an offensive force, even without Prince. But Ramirez hasn’t been the answer and this offense is struggling. But it’s not all their fault. The pitching isn’t too spectacular. Zack Greinke is playing very well with a 2.70 ERA, 5 Wins and 59 Ks in 56 IP. Shaun Marcum is also playing well. But Gallardo, Wolf and Narveson have ERAs over 4.50. Closer John Axford’s ERA is over 4.40. And K-Rod’s 4.91 ERA is worse. This team is struggling all around, and has a lot to fix. It’s early, so you can’t count them out yet. But they are going to need quite a run to get back in the discussion.
Chicago Cubs: And we saw this one coming. The Cubs are in a full re-build mode at 15-29, the worst record in baseball. The offense has its moments with Starlin Castro hitting 309 and stealing 12 bags. Also encouraging is Bryan LaHair’s 313 AVG with 10 HR and 21 RBI. It complicates things with Anthony Rizzo waiting in the wings, but too many good hitters is always a plus. But Geovany Soto is struggling and Alfonso Soriano isn’t doing great and this team is waiting out contracts and letting young guys get their feet wet. The offense has some punch, but it’s not a force to be reckoned with. The big surprise is the strength of the starting pitching. Matt Garza is 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA and 43 Ks in 48 IP. Jeff Samardzja leads the team with 53 Ks while turning in an ERA of 3. Ryan Dempster has a team best 2.28 ERA, despite a 0-2 record. Those 3 guys are killing it, while Paul Maholm is backing them up with 4 wins and a 4.73 ERA. Volstad is struggling, but 4 out of 5 starters playing well is pretty good. And it’s especially important with a bullpen in flux and a closer in Carlos Marmol who lost his job after a 6.35 ERA and as many blown saves as converted ones. Obviously this team has a lot to work on. They won’t compete now, and some of these successful starters are getting too old to help for long. But strong season could make them more attractive to playoff bound teams at the trade deadline, enabling Theo Epstein to keep re-building off the prospects he can get for them and the support they can bring a young offense. Everything is on schedule in Chicago, though Cubs fans don’t like the short-term plans.
Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers have gotten off to a great start. With the best record in baseball and one of the best outfielders in the game, it seems that all the Dodgers needed to win was a good owner who didn’t bankrupt the team and lie about his income. It’s amazing how much more relaxed you play when the team is able to meet their payroll demands. They were lead offensively by Matt Kemp who was trying to make good on his promise to have a 50/50 season. The speed wasn’t there as much, (2 SB out of 5 attempts), but he leads the team with 12 HR, 29 R and a 359 AVG. Unfortunately he’s now injured and has gone to the DL. Luckily the other Dodgers are playing well in support finally, and some of them are playing out of their minds. A.J. Ellis is the big surprise here with a 327 AVG. This is a light-hitting catcher who’s moved around in his career, so no one thinks this will last. But if he can keep it going a bit longer it will help offset the absence of Kemp. But the guy the Dodgers really needed to step up the most was Andre Ethier. And they are thrilled that he’s answered the call. He’s hitting 321 with 9 HR and a team leading 40 RBI. He’s finally been protecting Kemp, and that’s probably helped with his hot start as well. Now that Kemp’s gone, he’s the man, and he needs to carry the team until Kemp can return. And beyond those guys, Jerry Hairston Jr. has hit 315 in 19 games off the bench for this club, Tony Gwynn Jr. is hitting 298 and Mark Ellis is hitting 273. The Dodgers are finally all swinging the bats a lot better, and it’s supported Kemp, and now needs to carry the team until their star returns. Similar to their hitters, their starters have been Clayton Kershaw and everyone else. But this year, the other guys are really stepping up too. Chris Capuano leads the team with 6 Wins. And he looks good with a 2.25 ERA, 201 BAA and 50 Ks in 56 IP. Clayton Kershaw leads the club in Ks with 51 in 61 IP, but also a 0.88 WHIP, 1.90 ERA and 193 BAA to go with his 4-1 record. But as good as those numbers are, the team leader in ERA isn’t either one of them. It’s veteran Ted Lilly at 1.79. He’s 5-0 and boasts a 170 BAA, and 0.90 WHIP. Not many teams can boast three starters who are all pitching like aces. And after them, Chad Billingsley and Aaron Harang have been solid with ERAs under 4. This is a deep group of starting pitchers and they are helping keep this team at the top of the NL West. Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansenn have both been solid at the back of the bullpen, and this Dodgers team looks like it’s ready for a run at the top of the division this season. I’ll concede that essentially any team can win the NL West each year, but the Dodgers certainly weren’t the team I thought would be in first, but they are solidly up there and looking to stay. I think we will be talking about them in the playoff hunt all season.
San Francisco Giants: At 23-20 the Giants are the only other team besides the Dodgers in the NL West that is over 500. But they trail the Dodgers by 7 games, and their record is only good enough for a tie for fourth in the NL East and 3rd in the Central. The Giants have subsisted with fantastic pitching the past few years. Their offense has ranked near the bottom the past few seasons, and the one year in that time where they had enough offense to be considered just below average, they won a World Series. While their pitchers are still sharp, their ace, Tim Lincecum has been the least effective to start this season. He’s got a 6.04 ERA and 2-3 record. That’s not what they need from him. Luckily for the Giants, their other 4 starters have been great. Madison Bumgarner leads the team with 5 wins to go with a 2.85 ERA. Ryan Vogelsong leads the team with his 2.27 ERA and Matt Cain, recently signed to a long term contract that will pay him a lot of money, is off to a great start with a 4-2 record, 2.94 ERA and a team leading 62 Ks in 64 IP. However the biggest pleasant surprise for the Giants has been the start of Barry Zito. Zito has been largely ineffective since signing a massive contract with the team. But he’s 3-1 this year with an ERA of 3. This strong pitching staff is keeping them going and has helped their recent hot streak where they pulled their record over 500, though they gained little ground against LA. And they need that pitching to keep going as the team hasn’t been overly effective with the bats. Offseason acquisition Melky Cabrera has been a good trade for them so far as he leads the team with his 360 AVG. He also leads the team with 27 R while chipping in 2 HR, 17 RBI and 6 SB. After him, Pablo Sandoval is next with his 316 AVG, though he’s been limited to 24 games. He’s slugged 5 HR and driven in 15 to go with that AVG in limited time, so they like what they’ve got in King Fu Panda, but they just need to keep him healthy. 2 other players have gotten off to good starts early this season, and they are Buster Posey and the other offseason trade acquisition, Angel Pagan. Posey is hitting 300 with a team leading 6 HR and 23 RBI. They missed his bat sorely last year. And Angel Pagan is hitting 297 with a team leading 8 SBs to go with 4 HR and 13 RBI. And those guys are leading a team that has some slumping starters. Youngsters Brandon Belt and Emmanuel Crawford have combined for 1 HR and are both hitting under 240. Injuries have limited Aubrey Huff and Ryan Theriot, who are both under 200. This offense has some talent, but without a lot of team speed or power, they need all their guys to be hitting well if they expect to score runs. You can never count a team that pitches like this out, especially this early. But I don’t think they can go deep into the playoffs, if they even make it there.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Sitting in third place in the NL West with a 19-25 record is a very disappointing Arizona team. They are 11.5 games back of first and in desperate need of something to turn them around. This young group of talented hitters has been struggling. They don’t have any hitters that qualify for the batting title at this point hitting over 300. Chris Young is off to a great start hitting 322 with 5 HR, 15 RBI and 2 SB, but he’s just returned from injury and has missed a lot of time. Lyle Overbay is off to a torrid start hitting 370 in 25 games. But when it comes to their starters who have played a full slate of games, the highest AVG belongs to Jason Kubel at 280. Justin Upton and Miguel Montero are hitting in the 250s, Paul Goldschmidt and Gerardo Parra are hitting in the 240s and Ryan Roberts and Aaron Hill are hitting in the 230s. Hill leads the team with 5 HR and Montero with 21 RBI, but that’s pretty much it. Parra leads the team with 10 SB and Justin Upton has also swiped 8. This is a team with speed, power and some star power. But their bats need to come alive soon. They’ve dug themselves a huge hole, and the hot start of the Dodgers has made things even tougher for them. On the pitching side of things, they’ve not nearly pitched as well as they did last season. Daniel Hudson has an ERA of 6 and has missed a lot of time. He should rejoin the team soon, and they hope he can be more effective. Josh Collmenter has a 7.18 ERA. Ian Kennedy, last year’s ace, has been effective, but not nearly as strong with a 3-4 record and a 4.47 ERA. He leads the team with 45 Ks, but hitters are squaring the ball up against him as his 283 BAA shows. Trevor Cahill has played well since joining the team, but some bad luck has turned his 3.74 ERA and 237 BAA into a 2-4 record. The one pleasant surprise on the mound has been Wade Miley who leads the team with 5 Wins and a 2.14 ERA in 6 starts. When Hudson comes back, I suspect they’ll find a way to keep him in the rotation while sending the struggling Collmenter to the bullpen. That bullpen could use some new blood as J.J. Putz is struggling in the 9th with a 7.20 ERA, despite 9 Saves. So the pitching needs to settle down if this team is to really make a push. There was a fear that last year was a magic season for this club where a lot of guys had the best years of their careers at the same time, enabling them to win the division. I don’t think that’s the case, and I picked them to win the division again. But they need to improve in every area, and that will likely take time. And the longer it takes, the farther behind they will fall as a surprisingly good team in LA shows no signs of slowing down.
San Diego Padres: At 16-28, the Rockies are 14.5 games back in the weakest division in baseball, and things aren’t looking great for them this season. Not much was expected from this team that is considered to be re-building, but a few years ago they surprised everyone by almost winning the west and staying in the playoff hunt until the end. It’s not looking like they will be doing that this season. They continue to be a light hitting squad, though Yonder Alonso’s team leading 301 AVG is a good sign. Alonso was the biggest piece of the Mat Latos deal and is hitting well while manning first for the Padres. There’s a concern about his lack of power in that huge ballpark in Petco (1 HR and 14 2Bs….the definition of warning track power). But he’s young, and right now he’s hitting well. The only player who’s made any noise on the home run front is Chase Headley with his team leading 5 HR and 20 RBI. But that comes with a 245 AVG from the highly touted thirdbaseman who hasn’t achieved his potential yet. And the fact is this team just doesn’t hit well at all. After Alonso, the player with the next highest AVG that’s appeared in at least 30 games is Chris Denofria at 264. Everyone else is sitting between 230 and 250 with no power and little speed apart from Cameron Maybin (13 SB). They are re-building, but so far these pieces don’t frighten the competition. Their pitching is again solid, but Petco has a lot to do with that. I could turn in a sub 5 ERA in that stadium. Cory Leubke leads the team with 3 Wins to go along with a 2.89 ERA. The best ERA belongs to Anthony Bass at 2.61 to go along with his team leading 51 Ks in 54 IP. After those two, Edinson Volquez and Jeff Suppan are pitching well while Clayton Richard and Joe Wieland are pitching fine. But despite the solid mound performances, they can’t win games. Huston Street and Dale Thayer are fantastic in the bullpen with a combined 9 Saves and a sub-1 ERA. But when you don’t win games, you don’t get lots of Save opportunities. They can’t score. If you can’t score you can’t win. And when you get on the road, your pitching isn’t as strong as it seems, and it means you lose lots of games. That’s what’s been happening in San Diego right now. It was expected, but it’s still now fun for fans to watch. I don’t think we need to consider this team as a playoff contender this year.
Colorado Rockies: The Rockies are also 14.5 games back of first in the NL West. They have one less win and one less loss than the Padres. But other than the similar records, this team couldn’t be more different, and it makes their lack of success all the more disheartening. The Rockies have been up and down in recent years. They have a strong core, and used this offseason to back it up with solid veterans as they try to slug their way into contention in the remaining years that the West is weak. With LA under new ownership, the Giants locking down their ace starters and the young Diamondbacks getting more experience, the window was closing for the Rockies to make some noise. So they went for it this offseason with a lot of free agent additions to make their offense truly formidable. But it came at the expense of pitching and has been their undoing so far in 2012. Carlos Gonzalez leads the team with a 301 AVG, 8 HR and 32 RBI. He’s also got 6 SB and 31 R. He’s playing very well. But their other young stud, Troy Tulowitzki is having a slow start with a 261 AVG. He’s hit 5 HR and driven in 19, but he’s only 1 for 3 on the bases and isn’t looking like his All Star self. In addition, Dexter Fowler and Marco Scutaro are off to slow starts for this team hitting under 250 and Todd Helton is hitting 220. Free agent Michael Cuddyer is playing well with a 282 AVG, 4 HR, 26 RBI and 6 SB. But this team was supposed to be an offensive force in an offensive park that would offset weak pitching. If these guys aren’t hitting like crazy, then they are in trouble. And right now they are an average offense at best. That’s been the biggest cause of their slow start. Also a major factor in the slow start, was the pitching that we figured would be suspect before the season even started. The lowest ERA among their starters belongs to Juan Nicasio at 4.83. Drew Pomeranz has done a little better in limited starts at 4.70. But Jamie Moyer, Jeremy Guthrie, Jhoulys Chacin, the aforementioned guys and the spot starters have all struggled mightily. Part of it is Coors Field. The rest of it is their ineffectiveness. The bullpen has been a little better with Rafael Betancourt saving 7 out of 8 games and pulling down an ERA of 3. But the pitching as a whole is as weak as we thought it’d be. Couple that with an offense that is nowhere near as good as we thought it would be, and you have a team tied for last in the NL West. It’s early, and the Rockies offense should improve, but with LA off to such a strong start and the talent in Arizona and San Francisco, I think this team will have finish outside the playoffs, wasting an aggressive offseason.